Pope Francis’ pontificate is already characterized by a number of new emphases, especially his emphasis on a “poor Church for the poor” and on an “environment-friendly” attitude. This is the view of Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, ranked among the “contenders” for the See of Peter during the conclave which elected Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio. The first cardinal from Ghana, Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, 64, is a smiling, friendly man, and a frequent Twitter user. Here he talks of the new Pope, of the challenges facing the Church, of prayer, and of the feelings he had in the Sistine Chapel during the conclave.
Your Eminence, what is your opinion about the beginning of Pope Francis’ pontificate?
Cardinal Peter Turkson: Two things have impressed me about the new Pope from the start: his simplicity, humility and unaffected style; then, the name he has chosen.
He has sent out an important message: his exhortation to the Church to go to the outskirts of cities and to pay attention to the poor, to the last ones.
And, following in the footsteps of St. Francis, he has chosen to give up power, wealth, to become one of us. His living in the spirit of the Canticle of the Creatures recalls the importance of protecting the natural environment.
So, I dare say that we can identify two distinctive features of Pope Francis’ pontificate: the stress he lays on the importance of an eco-friendly attitude, and his wish to see a poor Church for the poor, paying attention to the poor and the destitute.
What in your opinion are the greatest challenges facing the Church today?
Turkson: First, winning back credibility. Francis is a reforming Pope and will be able to regain for the Church the credibility she has lost. The second challenge is about the new evangelization and the dangers of secularism, relativism and indifference pervading our society. Francis wishes to help the world find a place for God in everyday life.
Your Eminence, do you think that Pope Francis’ pontificate will start a wave of change?
Turkson: The wind of change is already blowing.
The new Pope’s style is very different from that of his predecessors: he never has himself waited on, he sits down wherever he finds a seat next to one cardinal or another and, for the moment at least, he has refused to move to the papal apartments.
All these gestures point to simplicity and humility. He has remained one of us.
How did it feel taking part in the conclave?
Turkson: There was a strong emotion.
All of us cardinal electors followed each count with some anxiety, but also with trepidation, knowing that the Holy Spirit was operating.
We prayed a lot.
There were moments of intense meditation and spirituality.
Before the beginning of the conclave you were ranked among the possible successors to Benedict XVI. Were you afraid of being elected?
Turkson: Of course we are all afraid of being elected, myself included. Only politicians are happy to be elected.
This is not the case within the Church. Grave fears are felt at the thought of having to guide millions of faithful, a very heavy burden.
Some say that Cardinal Bergoglio obtained more than 90 votes, a near unanimity. Is that true?
Turkson: It’s just a rumor. The conclave is now a thing of the past, and the Pope has the full support of the Universal Church.